• WisBusiness

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Keeping an old friend: Why Wisconsin should value GE Healthcare

By Tom Still
It's hard to fault GE Healthcare for wanting to expand its reach into China, where more than 1.3 billion people account for nearly one of every five human beings on the planet. There's no bigger emerging market for medical equipment in the world.

But it's also hard not to lament the news that GE Healthcare, one of Wisconsin's largest private employers and a shining example of the state's expertise in building medical equipment, will move its X-ray headquarters from Waukesha to Beijing, China.

At first blush, the move of GE's X-ray headquarters to China might not seem all that troubling. The company's production unit in Waukesha won't lose jobs, a company vice president said Monday, and only a "handful" of key executives will move to Beijing. The company's stated goal is to further penetrate the vast Chinese market, so it will hire 65 more engineers and support staff there while simultaneously boosting research.

It's true that X-ray technology is a mature field and GE's Waukesha operations are more focused on cutting-edge equipment in magnetic resonance imaging, computed technology (CT) scans and beyond. Still, losing a corporate headquarters is rarely a good thing: Wisconsin should to do more to convince GE it's possible to grow at home and still do business globally.

GE's X-ray unit has called the Milwaukee area home since 1947, when the company left Chicago for a 43-acre site that had been used to build turbochargers during World War II. In short order, a renewed era of growth and innovation for GE began. Milwaukee became a hub for a host of electro-medical products, including patient monitoring equipment, cardio-surgical products and MRI technology.

In time, electro-medical equipment became one of Wisconsin's biggest exports thanks to companies such as GE, Marquette Medical Systems (later acquired by GE) and new entries such as Madison-based TomoTherapy, recently acquired by Accuray. Only California and Minnesota can claim larger "clusters" of electro-medical equipment manufacturers and researchers.

Innovative companies rarely stand still, however, and GE has lately looked elsewhere to expand. In 2004, GE Medical Systems acquired Amersham PLC, a pharmaceutical company in the United Kingdom with expertise in other life science products. Within a year, GE moved its health care headquarters from Waukesha to Buckinghamshire, England, becoming the first GE business unit to be based outside the United States.

Long-time observers of Wisconsin's business climate note GE Healthcare has bypassed other opportunities to expand here – in part because the state hasn't fully appreciated the importance of the company to the state's overall economy. Corporate taxation issues, disputes over highway access to a new building and other issues involving state and local government haven't helped.

Mending those fences and highlighting the advantages of growing in Wisconsin is a worthy project for Gov. Scott Walker, his administration and the Legislature.

One solid building block is GE Healthcare's relationship with the UW-Madison and the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, the non-profit patenting and licensing arm for the university. Ten years ago, the university, WARF and UW Hospitals launched intellectual property agreements that have allowed UW and company researchers to work side-by-side in Waukesha and Madison.

The agreements have produced hundreds of patent disclosures and the commercialization of multiple products, especially in medical imaging. It has led to licensing agreements for WARF and market leads for GE, as well as enhanced federal grant prospects and access to state-of-the-art equipment for the university.

"It is a relationship that really works," said Carl Gulbrandsen, WARF's managing director. "I would like to see more of these master agreements evolve with other Wisconsin companies."

The rise of biomedical research at UW-Milwaukee, the Medical College of Wisconsin, Marquette University, the BloodCenter of Wisconsin and the Milwaukee School of Engineering should offer GE Healthcare yet another source of homegrown talent and research.

Wisconsin's annual export figures reveal that medical equipment is one of the sectors driving the state's economy, especially at the intersection of technology and manufacturing. It's no surprise that GE Healthcare is pursuing mega-markets in China and beyond, but shame on Wisconsin if it fails to make the case why the company should continue to grow in its historic backyard.

-- Still is president of the Wisconsin Technology Council. He is the former associate editor of the Wisconsin State Journal in Madison.


Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Did you ask THE four IT questions before opening your checkbook?

By Gerardo Canales
“Let’s do it” you exclaim to your IT person; but are you fully aware of the costs and benefits for this project? For those difficult decisions I have a four-question approach for non-IT business owners I use with clients to make sure they are spending their money wisely:

The Four P’s for IT Projects:

Does it improve Protection?

Before you invest a penny in any technology project, make sure that your protection will be up to date and scaled up to the new IT infrastructure you will have. Not only should you protect from the external world with antivirus, firewalls, encryption technology etc but from within your own company. Can an insider cause harm to your information? Intentionally or unintentionally, in a high number of cases damages to the integrity of data, technology systems and the overall ability to continue operations have its roots inside your own company. Be sure to adapt your IT security to the needs of your business.

Are we going to have an increase in Productivity?

My personal experience with this question is one where the IT guys were great at explaining how everything would be easier and faster and how I would have more information at my fingertips whenever I wanted it; but they could not explain to me how the company was going to be more productive. To be fair, we must disclose that not all IT professionals are like that. For a business owner I define productivity as doing more relevant operations with less money, reducing operational cost or having the ability to sell more. If none of those questions are positive then why would you incur in such investment?

Are we going to have more Profitability?

Profitability should be a consequence of productivity improvements but it is not always the case. A simple test is to ask the proponents of an IT investment to prove it in a simple way: What are the profits today and what will be the profits after the investment is made? You just have to make sure the profitability analysis uses the right assumptions and the right data; hint: Enlist your accounting department to help the IT team prepare the Business case. This way they will all work with the same numbers.

Will it improve systems Performance?

Performance is not the same as productivity. A system or database could improve your productivity and have a poor performance. It is important because of its potential for collateral damages to clients, vendors, employees or a domino effect where one piece of technology failure causes others to fail too. In most cases, issues with performance will be discovered during the productivity or profitability analysis however they are not mutually exclusive, so do not overlook this question.

Finally, you should know at the very least “why” or “why not” to invest in an IT project. Most of the time, if the four questions are answered then you will have more than good reason to give the project the green light.

-- Canales is a business growth consultant for small and midsize service and distribution businesses, with finance and crisis management experience for midsize businesses in Texas and the Midwest. Read his bio


Thursday, July 14, 2011

It's not your grandfather's iron mine: How the Gogebic mine fits northern Wisconsin

By Tom Still
Name the industry in which you would expect to find the following science and technology professionals: Chemical engineers, computer programmers, computer systems analysts, electrical engineers, environmental scientists, geochemists, geo-engineers, geophysicists, drafting technologists, metallurgical engineers and quality control engineers.

If you answered "mining," you would be correct. Unfortunately, you won't find those jobs anytime soon in Wisconsin unless the state injects more certainty into its laws governing the construction and operation of open-pit mines.

A proposal to mine iron ore in northern Wisconsin's Gogebic range is on hold until the Legislature can review state laws that mining proponents say are open-ended and which invite unreasonable delay – even if mines meet federal and state environmental standards.

Gogebic Taconite holds an option on mineral rights for 22,000 acres covering 22 miles of a mountain range known as the Gogebic, or Penokee, that runs through northern Wisconsin and Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Mining could begin within five years in a 4.5-mile stretch between Mellen and Upson, an area that straddles Wisconsin's Ashland and Iron counties, but only if the state lends more certainty to the permitting process.

On the surface, the dispute appears to be a classic debate between people who want economic growth and those who worry about harming the environment. But this debate is unlike mining disputes in other locations, including Wisconsin's long-dormant Crandon mine proposal, for some pertinent scientific reasons.

The Gogebic mine would be an iron oxide mine, extracting iron ore using water and magnets, and not a sulfide mine, which uses separating chemicals that can produce long-lasting environmental damage. "Sulfide mining extracts copper, nickel, and other metals from sulfide ores. The environmental risks are much different from traditional iron ore mining. Here's just one reason why: when rain falls on the waste from iron mining, it makes rust; when rain falls on sulfide ore waste, sulfuric acid is produced."

That's not from corporate mining interests, but from the Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness in Minnesota, a state that has learned to safely and profitably extract iron ore.

That's not to say all iron mines are automatically safe, but they can be responsibly managed within known parameters using the latest technologies. For example, recycling and processing techniques can discharge water that won't harm downstream fisheries, wild rice beds and other natural areas. Early indications show that waste rock from the Gogebic mine would not include high sulfide levels that could endanger water quality, although further tests are needed to confirm that geologic fact.

At stake: Perhaps the largest economic development opportunity to hit northern Wisconsin in a century.

The mine would create 700 direct mining jobs and stimulate 2,800 other jobs in a 12-county region, generating $604 million per year for the regional economy, according to a report by Madison-based NorthStar Economics Inc.

Average pay and benefits would total nearly $83,000 per year, the range for similar mines in Minnesota and Michigan, with a total mine payroll of $58 million per year. The first phase of the mine could generate $17.2 million per year in state and local tax revenues. Construction of the mine, which would cost $1.5 billion, would support 3,175 jobs over two years.

Because it holds one of the largest known iron reserves in the world, the mine could operate at least 35 years and perhaps much longer.

It adds up to a vital boost for a region where the population is poorer, older and less educated than people in Wisconsin as a whole. Median household income in Iron County, for example, is 32 percent below the statewide average. One quarter of the population is 65 and older compared to 14 percent statewide. About 15 percent of the people in Iron County hold a college degree, compared to 25.7 percent statewide.

The boom would extend to other sectors, ranging from restaurants and trucking services to the railroad industry, construction, hospitals and retail stores. Because a surprising number of mining jobs are scientific or technical in nature, the region would stand a better chance of stimulating spin-off businesses or attracting other professionals.

Some lawmakers believed the mining law revisions proposed in the spring were rushed, but the Legislature should have ample time to reasonably assess those regulations by the fall. Environmental excellence and job creation need not be mutually exclusive goals, especially in a state with the expertise to accomplish both.

-- Still is president of the Wisconsin Technology Council. He is the former associate editor of the Wisconsin State Journal in Madison.


Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Businesses are right: If we can't move it, we can't make it

By Craig Thompson
The sea of red ink and what it could mean to our country’s future is now dominating the national psyche. We can all go to a website and literally watch our national debt grow – every second – by amounts that we have trouble grasping.

The imperative to change the trajectory of our debt burden is clear. A recent national poll shows that nearly 60 percent of Americans prefer reducing debt even if that slows economic recovery. It is the job of our elected leaders, however, to carry deficit reduction out in a responsible manner that does not threaten the basic underpinnings of our economy.

One of the basic underpinnings of the economy is our transportation infrastructure. A national business coalition led by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is imploring the federal government to recognize this basic fact and act accordingly. Their message is plain: “If We Can’t Move It, We Can’t Make It.”

According to the World Economic Forum’s Global competitiveness report 2010-2011, the quality of the United States’ infrastructure has plummeted compared to other nations over the past decade. In 2000, the U.S. ranked seventh in the overall quality of its infrastructure. The most recent report now ranks the U.S. 23rd, behind France, Germany, Canada, Japan and others.

Historically, transportation has been a nonpartisan issue in this country. Both parties understood that a well maintained transportation infrastructure is the building block upon which all other elements of the economy rest. Today both parties talk about the importance of transportation but neither side walks the walk. President Obama has offered a plan which calls for increased transportation investment but offers no tangible way to fund it. Congressman John Mica and the Republicans also laud the importance of transportation, while they propose a six-year bill that will slash funding by more than thirty percent.

Make no mistake. This is not a debate about whether to “stimulate” the economy. Too many people have become mired in this argument regarding the true economic benefit of putting people to work today to maintain and upgrade our transportation infrastructure.

The real question is whether we are going to allow our failing roads, airports, transit systems, rails, bridges and ports to act as a cap on economic activity for the foreseeable future. Because, perpetuating the inefficient flow of goods and people is in fact placing such a cap on our economy – one that will also limit the amount of tax revenue generated to fund other important government functions.

Our history is dotted with key points where a president and congress prioritized transportation investment during very difficult times. With a civil war waging that depleted the treasury; Abraham Lincoln never relented on building a transcontinental railroad. Despite tremendous rancor, Theodore Roosevelt was not to be deterred in building the Panama Canal. Dwight Eisenhower will forever be remembered as the President with the vision and conviction to push forward the Interstate Highway System. Ronald Reagan successfully fought for doubling the federal gas tax in order to invest in our transportation infrastructure as the nation was in the midst of recession.

We all know there are areas of the federal budget that are going to need to be cut in order to rectify our deficit woes. Transportation investment is not one of them.

-- Thompson is executive director of the Transportation Development Association of Wisconsin.


Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Wisconsin's widening war on renewable energy

Dramatic slowdown in market activity anticipated

By Michael Vickerman
What started out as an opening salvo from the Walker Administration to shackle large-scale wind projects has in six months turned into a systematic campaign to dismantle the state policies that support renewable energy development. Joining the executive and legislative branches in pursuing policy rollbacks and/or funding cutbacks against renewables are various utilities and, surprisingly, Focus on Energy, Wisconsin’s ratepayer-funded energy efficiency and renewable programs.

Since January 1st, Wisconsin has seen a series of assaults against utility-scale projects and smaller renewable systems serving both residences and businesses. These include the following actions:

* The Legislature suspended PSC 128, the statewide rule developed by the Public Service Commission last year in response to a law passed by the Legislature in 2009 ordering the agency to establish uniform standards for permitting wind energy systems. Since the March 1 suspension vote, wind development in Wisconsin has slowed to a standstill.

* The Legislature adopted SB 81, a bill that RENEW Wisconsin describes as the “Outsource Renewable Energy to Canada Act.” SB 81 allows Wisconsin utilities to meet their renewable energy requirements beginning in 2015 with electricity generated from large hydropower plants in other states and Canada. By allowing Wisconsin utilities to become even more dependent on energy imports than they are today, SB 81 turns Wisconsin’s Renewable Energy Standard on its head. Importing large-scale hydropower exports the very dollars that could have been used to harness Wisconsin’s renewable energy resources.

* We Energies, the state’s largest electric utility, abruptly decided in May to walk away from an agreement with RENEW to dedicate $60 million over a 10-year period in support of renewable energy development in its territory. The decision came in the sixth year of this program. We Energies plans to reallocate the unspent dollars (totaling about $27 million) to general operations.

* Green Bay-based Wisconsin Public Service (WPS) instituted in April a new net energy policy designed to discourage new customer-sited renewable energy systems. Until recently WPS had been paying its customers the full retail rate for electricity that flows back on the wires, which is now about 12 cents/kWh. But under the new rate, WPS only pays three cents/kWh for electricity exported to the grid. Moreover, the utility calculates the net each month, which penalizes customers whose loads vary significantly depending on seasonal factors. Right now, the new policy only covers systems installed after March 2011, but WPS has said that it plans to apply that rate to older systems effective January 2013.

* In its deliberations on the biennial state budget passed in June, the Legislature appended a rider to tie Focus on Energy’s annual budget to a percentage (1.2% of gross utility revenues). This action will mean a cut of $20 million in the program’s 2012 budget relative to this year’s allocation of $120 million. The Focus on Energy program provides grants and cash-back awards supporting customer investments in solar electric, solar thermal systems, small wind, biogas and biomass energy systems.

* Last, but certainly not least, as of July 1, Focus on Energy stopped accepting applications for business program incentives to help customers install renewable energy systems. These incentives, which average about $7 million per year, had been available since 2002 to businesses, farms, schools, local governments and other nonprofit customers. It is not clear when these incentives will be resumed and in what quantity.

This one-two punch of policy rollbacks and funding cutbacks has cast a pall over the state’s renewable energy marketplace. At this year’s Energy Fair in Custer, Wisconsin, the prevailing mood of contractors and exhibitors was one of bewilderment tinged with anger. It is dawning on these companies that their state, which once took pride in its efforts to nurture a thriving renewable energy market, is becoming an inhospitable place to do business. The transformation is occurring with stunning speed; no business is likely to be spared from this abrupt reversal of fortune, which will hit home soon and continue for several months, if not years.

At this moment, however, the Wisconsin renewable energy landscape is humming with installation activity. New wind turbines are soaring above cornfields in Columbia County, where construction crews and operating engineers from Appleton-based Boldt Construction and Brownsville-based Michels Wind Energy assemble what will become Wisconsin’s largest wind generation facility. The towers for the Glacier Hills wind energy project are being fabricated at Tower Tech in Manitowoc. Solar hot water systems now crown the rooftops of new apartment and university buildings, while solar PV panels mounted on 14-foot-tall poles rise above a farm field in Dane County to power Epic Systems’ ground source heat pump system. A cranberry company in Monroe County is about to become the second of its kind to rely on a pair of small wind turbines for its electrical needs. Meanwhile, all across Wisconsin one can find contractors building this year’s crop of bioenergy systems that convert the effluent from dairy farms, cheese producers and wastewater treatment plants into a baseload source of electricity.

Indeed, this wave of projects, fueled principally by funding commitments made in previous years and the early part of this year, should keep contractors and installers busy through the end of 2011. Though an observer unfamiliar with this year’s travails might be deceived by this show of vitality, both installers and advocates know that this activity can’t be sustained for long without a fresh supply of oxygen in the form of policy and funding initiatives. But until state government recognizes the folly of its war against renewable energy and changes course on energy policy, the rollbacks of 2011 will suck much of the oxygen out of next year’s renewable energy marketplace, setting it up for significant contraction in the years that follow.

How Wisconsin benefits from shrinking its renewable energy business community and becoming even more dependent on finite supplies of fossil energy imported from afar is a question worth posing to our political leaders. In our view, that approach is guaranteed to turn Wisconsin into an economic backwater. Is this what they hope to achieve? Probably not. But the toll on the state goes beyond the jobs that weren’t created, the investments from overseas that went to other states, and the tax revenues that failed to materialize as projected…..An even bigger casualty of these rollbacks is Wisconsin’s ability to project itself as a center of consistency and stability, a place where policy changes affecting businesses occur gradually and over time. Not long ago, Wisconsin political leaders were capable of working on complex legislative matters in a low-key and bipartisan manner. An example of that is the Energy Efficiency and Renewables Law (2005 Act 141) signed into law in March 2006, which increased Wisconsin’s Renewable Energy Standard to 10% by 2015 and protected Focus on Energy from future budget raids. That law created what seemed at the time to be a durable framework for enabling renewable energy resources to play an expanded role in the state’s energy future.

However, it is now painfully evident that the political consensus that created the five-year-old law has evaporated. The resulting vacuum has emboldened incoming legislators to fix their crosshairs on the policy mechanisms supporting investment in renewable energy. With the active assistance of politically powerful interests like the Wisconsin Industrial Energy Group, these legislators are now attacking Wisconsin’s pro-renewable energy policies in a manner resembling a wave of Formosan termites going through a house. What has happened to Wisconsin’s energy policy here is a microcosm of the radically polarized political dynamic that has, unfortunately, become “the new normal” in this state. In this environment, confrontation is celebrated and compromise is shunned. Politics in Wisconsin has become a roller-coaster ride that is heavy on the sharp turns and violent dives, and light on the straightaways and gentle grades. And, with the Senate recall elections this summer and the virtual certainty of a gubernatorial recall election in the offing, this dynamic is not going away any time soon…

Needless to say, this volatility makes long-range financial commitments to upgrading the state’s energy infrastructure a challenge if not an impossibility. The suspension of the state’s wind siting rule, for example, upended a deliberate and multiyear effort to build predictability and certainty into the permitting process. With the rule in abeyance, what wind developers now face amounts to a random walk through a minefield. Small wonder that many of the developers who were active here three years ago have migrated to less explosive pastures. Indeed, high-profile rollbacks like these give the state an unwelcome reputation as being famously difficult to do business in…

Amazingly enough, despite the onslaught from political leaders and certain utilities, public support for renewable energy has held strong, according to a St. Norbert College poll conducted between April 11 and April 18 for Wisconsin Public Radio. More than three-quarters of the respondents favored additional investments in windpower, even if such expenditures would increase monthly electric bills. The rankings for each resource surveyed were: wind (77%), hydropower (60%), biomass (54%), natural gas (39%), nuclear (27%), and coal (19%). The results suggest that the hostility that the Walker Administration and the Legislature have shown to the renewable energy business community is completely out of step with the public.

Along with many other organizations and individuals, RENEW Wisconsin helped build public awareness on the value of renewable energy for jobs and energy self-sufficiency. Now in its 20th year, RENEW Wisconsin finds itself vigorously defending the many policies and practices that made Wisconsin a regional leader in the use of its native renewable energy resources. Though the future is fraught with challenges and uncertainties, about one thing we can be certain: the assaults and policy swings that come our way will not change either the citizen consensus or RENEW Wisconsin’s commitment to a future based on clean, local and sustainable energy.

-- Vickerman is the executive director of RENEW Wisconsin, a sustainable energy advocacy organization headquartered in Madison. For more information on what Wisconsin is doing to advance sustainable energy, visit RENEW’s web site at: http://www.renewwisconsin.org and RENEW’s blog at: http://renewwisconsinblog.org.


GreenBiz: California exec creating green retreat in Wisconsin

By Gregg Hoffmann
Tom Lukens has been to a lot of places over his long career in horticulture and business. Now, the president emeritus of Golden State Bulb Growers is creating “a beautiful place to simply be” along the West Fork in the Kickapoo Valley.

“I believe human beings are motivated by sharing experiences,” said Lukens, who continues to serve as a senior sales rep and technical consultant for the Moss Landing, California, Golden State Bulbs company, and has started Nature Nooks Retreat.

“That motivates me here. I believe this place gives you a sense of belonging which is good for us. We’ve built the buildings to not only be energy efficient as possible, but to bring the outside to you when you are inside.

“The biggest thing is to share the experience. I’m not going to make a ton of money in this, but the motivation is to protect and enhance biodiversity, the carrying capacity of the stream and land and to create a means to share it.”

Lukens has a tourism rental unit within a pole barn that existed in 2003, when he bought the 95 acres where Nature Nooks sits, and a new energy-efficient barn building which also can be rented.

In the coming months, Lukens plans to build two more rental units -- one that will resemble a chicken coop and another a grainery. Both will also be energy efficient and will use green construction.

“The goal is to give the place the look of a farm homestead,” Lukens said. “I didn’t want to develop something that did not fit in with the surrounding nature and community.”

The sharing at Nature Nooks, by no means, stops with people. Lukens has spent much of his time, resources and labor in developing the stream and surrounding land. Certainly, it has increased habitat for trout, a tourism attraction in the Kickapoo area and other parts of the Driftless Area.

But, Lukens also did not want to create what he calls a “trout ditch.”

“I refer to it as a riparian corridor,” he explained. “We have developed and enhanced habitat for turtles, snakes, frogs and other animals that live naturally along a stream. I noticed early on the bio-diversity that already was here, and have tried to help that thrive.”

The result also has been that the fishing is great along the mile long stretch of the West Fork that runs through the Nature Nooks property. Plus, the retreat also is a great place for “bird watching, nature observation, hiking, kayaking, swimming, skiing and more,” as Lukens’ business card reads.

Driftless Area Project head Jeff Hastings, Trout Unlimited, UW-Madison researchers and others have helped Lukens in his development of Nature Nooks and have embraced his bio-diversity approach to stream restoration.

The green construction starts with Lukens’ home, a 1,440 sq. ft. structure that resembles Frank Lloyd Wright designs and is intended to make as small a carbon footprint as possible.

Through the use of passive and active solar, hydronic heat in the floors, energy efficient windows and materials and a little bit of wood, Lukens was able to operate the home without “a drop of petroleum” last winter.

He estimates the solar part of his system cost about $34,000 more than conventional heat systems would, but he received an $18,000 tax credit and will recover any additional costs through energy efficiency.

Lukens also has worked with local contractors and has used local materials whenever possible.

“It starts by not building a home with more space than you need,” Lukens said. “This space is plenty for our purposes. By using local materials and labor, you also save costs, contribute to the community economically and leave less of a footprint because of transportation.”

Lukens also has followed many of the same principles in the building of the barn rental unit. He did go out of state for Structurally Insulated Panels (SIPS), made of recycled wood, for the walls. “I couldn’t find anybody in the area who was working with SIPS at the time so had to go to Minnesota,” he said.

The SIPS are very energy efficient and include an air envelope that allows for insulating qualities and air circulation in the walls.

When beams and other woods were needed, Lukens used local salvage lumber from the area.

The rental unit within the pole barn -- which Lukens calls his “Stealth” unit -- was basically built within an existing structure. “Some of what was there didn’t allow for some of the things we did in the house and barn, but we still strived for energy efficiency,” Lukens said.

One of the unique qualities of the unit is that the decks fold up in the winter to make the building back into a pole barn. “It provided for security when I was still living most of the time in California, and also allows us to winterize that unit and shut it down in the winter,” Lukens explained.

In addition to the buildings and streams habitats, Lukens is developing prairie areas and planting hundreds of trees on the property. He looks at Nature Nooks as a constantly evolving area, much like nature evolves.

It also has been evolving for an estimated 11,000 years. Artifacts found on the property indicate that the land had been seasonally occupied by Native Americans and others.

Lukens has traveled the world for his work and still travels some for his part-time work with Golden State Bulb Growers. Golden State specializes in begonias and callas, a form of lilies. The company produces millions of flower bulbs and cut flowers on more than 1,000 acres in California’s central coast. The company is considered the premier source for colored callas in the world.

But, Lukens finds himself devoting more and more time to his 95 acres in the Kickapoo Valley of Wisconsin and says his heart is now at Nature Nooks.

A graduate of St. Olaf in Minnesota, Lukens first was introduced to the Driftless Area by his brother, Jim, who was a professor at UW-Madison and avid trout fisherman. He never forgot the area and the Midwest after he moved to California for business.

His ex-wife also had ties to the state, so when it became time to start planning his exit from Golden State and the next stage of his life, he looked at the Driftless Area.

“It is such a unique place, with diversity in its nature and people,” Lukens said. He also feels it is a natural place for combining a love of nature and place, with sound green business practices, to build that “beautiful place to simply be.”

“People need a place to renew themselves, to connect with nature and the world around them,” Lukens said. “I am constantly checking what we are doing here against our charter, which reads, ‘to protect and enhance bio-diversity and carrying capacity and to create a means of sharing an appreciation for and a profound sense of belonging to nature’. As the owner and steward, I am pleased to share as much of this richness with whoever wishes to come here.”

Over time, Lukens hopes the retreat can host seminars from various groups, school groups and others wanting to study nature and green construction, as well as people just seeking that beautiful place to be.

You can find out more about Nature Nooks at http://www.naturenooksretreat.com.

-- Hoffmann has written many columns and features for WisPolitics.com and WisBusiness.com over the years. He writes the GreenBiz column monthly.


Wednesday, July 6, 2011

GreenBiz: For-profit well raises concerns about Crawford Co. trout stream

By Gregg Hoffmann
A proposed for-profit well in Crawford County has raised concerns from trout fishers, environmentalists and others who have formed the “Save Copper Creek” organization.

Dr. Darrell Long of Lima, Ohio, who owns the Town of Utica property on which the well would be located, says it will be used only to supply emergency water to nearby users -- local fire departments, water utilities, farming operations or local residents in time of crisis.

Long’s permit forbids him from developing a well for full scale commercial bottling, but he does plan to make a profit from the well, which will cost about $25,000. The well could pump up to 500,000 gallons of water per day.

The Department of Natural Resources' preliminary approval of the well includes limits on the amount and purposes of withdrawals. Final approval could come on July 22.

In an interview with WDRT, a community radio station in Viroqua, Long said he originally wanted to bottle and sell regular drinking water, and perhaps “help the juicing industry.” But he's willing to limit the well for “emergency water” use.

“We will comply with any restrictions in the DNR permit,” Long said, adding he hopes to make a profit selling within an 80-mile radius and for the emergency purposes mentioned in the preliminary DNR permit.

He expressed some disappointment with opposition groups, saying to some degree he “smells a little bit of Gestapo here.”

“Some people feel the DNR has too much power in this state,” Long said. “Some of the people who oppose this came from elsewhere in the state, where they stopped other proposals for bottling water.”

Long said he doesn't believe his immediate neighbors oppose his proposal.

The DNR did an environmental assessment because the well will be within 550 feet of the North Branch of Cooper Creek, a Class I trout stream. But critics contend the assessment doesn’t go far enough.

“Save Cooper Creek continues to have grave concerns about the proposed high-capacity well,” read a statement released by the group. Monitoring, enforcement and verification of the well use could “still be major problems,” the group says.

“Furthermore, we question the scientific conclusions on which the DNR’s decision relies. We have consulted with reputable hydro-geologists and fisheries biologists who have serious reservations about the environmental analysis done by the department.”

The group and its supporters also worry that the “emergency” uses for water from the well would be determined by Long. No other prohibitions are spelled out by the DNR, they say.

The critics also point out that no local governments, agencies or FEMA have asked Long to put in the well. They also have concerns about truck traffic, if indeed the water was transported elsewhere, and the effects on the wells of surrounding landowners.

State Sen. Dan Kapanke sent a “letter of concern” to Lawrence Lynch, the hydro-geologist for the DNR who has been handling the Long permit.

“As you will agree, it is unique to request a high-capacity well with the intended use as a backup water supply for a local municipality during emergency,” Kapanke, R-La Crosse, wrote. “In addition, Mr. Long has indicated that he intended to sell the water to individuals such as farmers. With that in mind, it raises legitimate questions regarding the details of the application.”

Kapanke said discussions with local officials didn't make it appear “there was neither a request nor articulated future need for emergency water services.” Kapanke also raised questions about the overall impact of water withdrawal on the environment.

-- Hoffmann has written many columns and features for WisPolitics.com and WisBusiness.com over the years. He writes the GreenBiz column monthly.

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